Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid is pitched an EVP


According to the annual employee survey, it seems many of our employees do not really value their benefits. Given we have not been allowed to improve benefits for years, I am not exactly surprised, but none the less, it is a bit embarrassing for my department.

The solution to this sad feedback from our employees is, of course, to give them what they want: a decent benefit package. But our Higher Beings will never go for a simple solution when a cheaper one will do. The solution put forward by Big Bad Boss is predictable: branding. Yawn. Benefits branding is so last year. We will never succeed in disguising our mediocre plans as something fashionable, no matter how often we dress them up in new clothes. Do the Higher Beings, our management team, think our employees are so stupid? Well, if they recruit in their own image, they may have a point.

Employee value proposition

It is a strange coincidence, but two guys from Smarmy Consulting rock up the next day with a presentation on ‘Creating an Employee Value Proposition (EVP)’. EVP is another abbreviated buzzword making the rounds, now that ‘employee engagement’ no longer results in fee-paying activities.

The first step in any EVP, Smarmy suggests, is developing intelligent data. It recommends running special focus groups to supplement our survey, and of course it can help us with that. It is true that in this environment of mistrust and swift management retribution, our employees risk few complaints online. While, they will say they are not happy with benefits, they will not risk completing a comment box, for fear of giving away their identity. However, I do not think they are any more likely to divulge much face to face to an external consultant funded by their employer, however thoughtful and open-ended the questions. Some of our employees may well be stupid, but they are still streetwise and wary. They have to be.

The older of the two Smarmy consultants, James, elaborates on the benefits of this new project: with its EVP process, we will become a magnet for talented, motivated employees. That seems a bit of a stretch goal to me. Has it met my colleague Lazy Susan? Or those silly girls in organisational development?

Standing out from the competition

The other Smarmy guy, Phillip, describes how it will build a framework to distinguish our organisation from the competition. I could argue that we are already differentiated; in fact, I could write the tag line: ‘We pay less than the rest’. Smarmy will use employee data analytics (spot another buzzword) to help us to build a consistent brand, looking through the eyes of existing and former employees. Big Bad Boss looks a bit uncomfortable at that last one. I wonder if it has seen the kind of things written about us on Glassdoor. Phillip goes on to say that a good EVP can even re-engage a disenchanted workforce. Seriously? Perhaps it can bring about world peace and reduce plastic in the sea while they are at it?

James says that using unique research methodology and synthesis, it will formulate collateral for specific employee segments. So far, James gets the prize for the most buzzwords in one sentence, but it is a close race.  What does all this really mean? It sounds to me like Smarmy will talk to our employees and tell us what to say to back them. Oh good.

I know that if you get really good creative people to design employee communications, the results can be so much glossier than anything we can do in-house. But then does Smarmy have really good creative people? And by the way, we just completed a major revamp, so does it really make sense to do it again so soon? I think it would be potentially confusing for employees and a waste of money too.

My resistance is futile. Philip goes on to say that the right EVP can deliver a reduction in compensation premiums of up to 50%. Big Bad Boss is seduced; I know they had him a ‘reduction in compensation’, never mind the fact that we rarely pay any premiums. Like most of the Higher Beings, he is all over anything that could reduce what we pay to employees. That, after all, is the covert reason for the benefits department’s very existence.

What is more, this project will create another tick on Big Bad Boss’s performance plan, even though it will be me who will have to do all the operational work. I am guessing another factor is that Big Bad Boss will be in Smarmy Consulting’s good books in time for its next client away day.

Surreal presentation

This whole presentation is just too surreal, and the timing of the visit from Smarmy just too convenient. I suspect this plot was hatched when Big Bad Boss was last on the golf course. It happens all the time, one of the large consulting firms will take him for a nice lunch, and before you know it we have spent another chunk of money with it. Big Bad Boss will easily sell the idea to the Higher Beings who will nod happily as soon as he says ‘reduction in compensation’. They will probably be keen to finish the meeting so that they can get off to a hospitality lunch of their own. Before I know it, I will be embroiled in yet another costly and pointless exercise. If only they would let me spend that much on our benefits package. I do not see Smarmy’s EVP re-engaging this particular disenchanted employee any time soon.

What we really need to do is to improve the actual value of our benefits, not just the perceived value.

Next time… Candid looks at her own pension.